James Howard Kunstler: Living In The Long Emergency

JKH and his worldview depends entirely on energy. Not technology.
At some point we run out of cheap-enough crude. Not sure when that happens. When it does, things change.
This is true unless there is some sort of deux ex machina that parachutes in and provides us with another source of energy. Such as, for instance, above-unity energy devices.
If we don’t get such an intervention, we end up with a World Made By Hand.
If you dispute this “it’s all about energy” assertion of mine, I’d love to hear your counter. Heck, as an engineer, I’d really love for it to be true.
Arguments such as, “it hasn’t happened yet”, aren’t acceptable. Lots of things haven’t happened yet. Such as, your personal death. Just because you haven’t died yet, isn’t evidence that you are going to live forever.

Here’s where you went wrong:

future declines of oil will not stop technological development
In saying that, you appear to be missing the fact that all the technology that we humans create requires a feedstock. The feedstock has been fossil fuels and especially oil. Kunstler spends most of part 1 of his book explaining why renewables, electric cars, etc. will not allow happy motoring and the rest of the fossil fuel fiesta to continue. I could actually explain it reasonably well myself, but if you're open to it, you should get it from the horse's mouth. Yes, it is the "techno-triumphalists" that Kunstler rips into the most - and for good reason. Technology won't run without the resources to run it.

I have had a blast looking at what you have posted here. It’s a gold mine and I think when I’m doing nothing I am heading here. Great stuff. Thank you

Yeah, I hear you. My grandson’s were here for a long weekend of mini bikes, hunting chipmunks, fishing for yellow perch, swimming and building a fort on top of a huge sand pile so they could see above for chipmunks. They got 8! that have taken over but have been thinned out a bit. Folks I love chipmunks but there are times you need to thin the herd, they are many and they are into everything. I shot one and the chickens went nuts that I did. Chickens are great farm animals, very personable. My grandson’s visit was the first since Christmas and we kissed and hugged tightly and felt each others love. This from teenagers and all that. They wanted the love of their Grandma Angel and Crappa, my grandfather name among others. They even help with the turning of the compost and putting some perfectly cured compost around the fruit trees, roses and other shrubbery. Gothic, I feel as you do for certain, so thank you for appreciating our goals and plans. I fully understood your happiness just by your words. Great stuff you know. Be good and thanks for your other posting today, what a terrific site. Peace

MKI has it about right. JHK has had it wrong for the 12 years I’ve been around. Instead of peak oil we have an oil glut that has been around for a while and shows no sign of ending any time soon.
That is not to say we can never reach peak oil, we will if we don’t take this opportunity to change our way of life. As I have said repeatedly for many years, the highest and best use of our remaining oil is to develop ways to live without it. That is technology. We can build out alternative energy infrastructure and learn to conserve energy better.
There are projections out there that point out ways of doing that by people who know a hell of a lot more than anyone on this site does. Not all of them are bullet proof, but as the technologies develop, there will be new avenues that open up. It is in the nature of technology.
The trick, of course, is to commit to full on global efforts to reach goals, probably not so much to avoid oil shortages, but rather to avoid global environmental destruction. We can probably do it, but even if we can’t, we owe it to our children to give it our best shot.

“Oil” does not exist in a vacuum. Oil is highly interrelated to the economy. “Peak oil” is a flawed concept because it mostly views oil in an isolated fashion not considering other variables. A more accurate assessment is “Peak CHEAP oil” meaning ever decreasing EROI…it used to take a fairly shallow drilling for a good return of oil when now it requires drilling 3 miles down in the ocean to get a fraction of previous return. Yes, there’s plenty of oil, but the problem is society is having an ever increasing inability to afford it. When many people talk about oil they actually mean peak cheap oil when they say peak oil.
Oil is what has greatly spiked the standard of living across the globe. Now that it’s getting more difficult to obtain there will be a progressive decline in the standard of living. Central banks have been fighting back this inevitable decline to make it not appear this is happening (or they don’t understand & they are fighting a battle with the wrong weaponry). The decline is always going to be a much more disorderly process than the build up (various empires such as the Roman Empire, bacteria in a Petri dish, the human body when a disease strikes such as cancer, etc). All of the financial shenanigans have just postponed the day of reckoning & has caused that reckoning to be much more severe & catastrophic when it happens.
Kunstler is exactly right. If one disagrees with that then I suspect the context one is viewing Kunstler is askew. I would also recommend a complete review of the Crash Course here at PP.

Steampunk by the 1840's
Steam engines - mechanical affairs of not much more than a metal firebox, a boiler, a piston and a cam shaft - can be fueled by wood. That’s renewable energy that ‘grows on trees’. By the 1840’s steam engines were used in factories throughout England.
The Industrial Revolution, now also known as the First Industrial Revolution, was the transition to new manufacturing processes in Europe and the United States, in the period from about 1760 to sometime between 1820 and 1840.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_Revolution
Keep your eye on that year, 1840, because that’s the year when men first began extract crude oil from the ground intending to use it in machines. (see Pennsylvania oil rush - Wikipedia)
In other words the Industrial Revolution was born and became mature before the first drops of oily non-renewable energy were pumped out of the ground.
I realize wood is a drastically less productive source of energy than hydrocarbon fuels like coal, oil and gas. But the line in the sand that Kuntsler and his fans have drawn here is that the future will necessarily bring about a “hand made world” when we run out of fossil fuels. That’s what I’m disputing.
We were already beginning to enjoy a substantial number of machine-made things, as well as engaging in long distance travel aboard locomotive trains pulled by steam engines, and we were communicating between cities with a sort of primitive ‘text messaging’ via telegraph before the first oil well was drilled.
Civilization, organized society writ large, will survive the end of oil.

If you dispute this "it's all about energy" assertion of mine, I'd love to hear your counter.
I shouldn't need to "counter" this it's so obvious. Even my kids know this! 70% of the oil barrel is transportation. And as we see today from the virus shutdown, most of US transportation is luxury. Hell, we haven't even started to cut back on our wasteful oil consumption. We can telecommute, carpool, bus. Dump our SUVs. Bicycle. Start living in cities. Ever visit Asia? Europe? We just don't conserve because oil is too damn cheap. And look what national virus telecommuting did to oil prices! Some emergency! Why do you feel you can dictate which arguments "aren't acceptable"? Sort of weird. Also, why should I feel the need to justify anything on a subject I've been right about for over a decade. As oclisa noted above back in 2007 JHK made a whole bunch of predictions & I said that JHK was wrong for economic, practical, and engineering reasons. I put my money where my mouth is & more than doubled my net worth in the last 13 years with very little risk by doing so. I also note that the "it's all about the energy" meme has strong parallels to the "wet sidewalks cause rain" fallacy. IOW just because we use more energy when we get rich doesn't mean using more energy is what made us rich. Yes, our machines take energy, but they are more far more energy efficient than doing all the work by hand. Also, humans are constantly finding new ways to conserve and manipulate energy. Look at the decline of the cost of electric lighting as a good example, because this decline predates oil. Oil is not the be-all-end-all of wealth creation.

Been reading it for a few years now and it’s acquired a strong far-right, libertarian, even somewhat unhinged tone. I still scan its headlines and read perhaps one in twenty articles, and to be fair it has brought some useful matters to my attention. I never read the comment streams: too many harsh, hasty, even vitriolic opinions.
If Zerohedge folded tomorrow, I don’t know if I’d miss it all that much.

I’m old enough to remember the last days of the British Empire. Back then in primary school we were taught that it was A Really Good Thing, ruling all those red areas on the world map with justice and equity, bringing prosperity and stability. (Big concepts for a primary school kiddie.) The existence of the Empire was somehow built into the structure of the universe.
Then it simply crumbled and faded. I witnessed the last 20 years or so of a process that had been in operation for at least 40 years, possibly 70. These things take time — decades — to unfold. Just be patient. Wait and watch.
By the way, the French Empire went the same way. They were on “la mission civilatrice” every bit as much as the British were, and where is their Empire now? Finished off at Dien Bien Phu.

No one is going to be right about the timing of events in the future but people are able to make very good predictions about the future nonetheless.
MKI, you will continue to be clearly right until you are overwhelming wrong. It’s ok for people to think however they want to think so we can agree to disagree. You seem to be quite headstrong and not open to learning. I write this not for you, but for others. I highly suggest watching the Crash Course video series …for free…one of the most valuable free things you’ll get in life. The series is fairly short but packed with great content connecting the dots with indisputable facts & logic. It’s also quite entertaining & potentially life changing. I challenge anyone to try to find any pertinent flaws with any of the Crash Course videos.

Hallo All,
I am writing from Essexin the UK in these increasingly strange times
Long term member and avid follower of Chris,Adam and the rest of the contributors to this site including of course the highly entertaining and astute observer JHK who provides me with an original insight into life in the USA .
I remember meeting and hearing Chris present the crash course to a mixed group at the houses of Parliment in London in around 2010 and remember that my impression of the politicians and lobbying cronies who were present was that his message was interesting but not one they were willing to accept or explore. Not enough greenwash!!
Chris stated then that the policies that the worlds central banks and they’re masters had chosen post the GFC would buy as at best another 10 years and that we "should use the time well " so here we are on cue.
We may be fortunate and get some additional time but heed the message in whatever way you can.
Wish you and yours the best of fortune in the challenging times ahead.

The world won’t be made by hand. What we use for an energy supply may change. It might be good to look at your location with an eye for energy production as well. Sorry for Chris, MA isn’t looking so good. Those of us in flyover country are looking better for energy production. (Many farms is a good thing too.)
put in your state to find out where you will be sitting. Even then I am installing a solar power system on my house in late August. The way my house is situated is excellent for it. The payback is 10 years because our power costs are low but the piece of mind is worth it.
you have to look at other fuel reserves besides just oil when talking about fossil fuels.
They have flown military aircraft using coal derived fuel oil with good results.
Also, the innovations happening in materials science right now are certainly helping us along with becoming less dependent on oil. Bioplastics are one interesting field. Metal alloys can also be produced without fossil fuels if we have access to electricity. If you’ve ever spent quality time in a smelter you understand what I am saying. Technology will eventually prevail at least for some. The gap between the have and have nots will unfortunately get much wider. As long as we don’t destroy ourselves I think people will keep advancing. It is going to be a rough ride though. Buy it cheap and stack it deep.
BTW I am also an engineer.

I’m just curious how you have more posts than Chris & Adam who run the site - combined !!! 51k!!!

The point is not what can be done, but what can be done at scale. I’m quite sure crude oil will be available far into the future, long after the world goes “made by hand”. I’m also sure liquid fuels will be made from coal; that’s not the point!

> I shouldn’t need to “counter” this it’s so obvious. Even my kids know this! 70% of the oil barrel is transportation.
> And as we see today from the virus shutdown, most of US transportation is luxury. Hell, we haven’t even started to cut back on our wasteful oil consumption. We can telecommute, carpool, bus. Dump our SUVs. Bicycle. Start living in cities. Ever visit Asia? Europe? We just don’t conserve because oil is too damn cheap. And look what national virus telecommuting did to oil prices! Some emergency!
Ok, perfect. Conservation is your fix to the “eventually running out of cheap oil” predicament.
> Why do you feel you can dictate which arguments “aren’t acceptable”? Sort of weird.
Yes, you are right, I should have phrased that differently. Let me try again.
Your argument relied on a logical fallacy: “because it hasn’t happened, it won’t ever happen.” As a result, your argument doesn’t actually make logical sense. I should have said this instead: your argument was illogical and nonsensical, versus proclaiming it not acceptable. Sorry about that.
> IOW just because we use more energy when we get rich doesn’t mean using more energy is what made us rich. Yes, our machines take energy, but they are more far more energy efficient than doing all the work by hand.
Yes, definitely, I agree that it is far more energy efficient to do work using oil. My return question: is our oil resource infinite? If not, when does the cheap stuff start to run out?
Is conservation possible? Of course! I probably have more experience in the emerging world than most people. I’ve seen such conservation in action. They get by on a whole lot less energy use than we do in the US, and their life is just fine. [minus vacations to distant locales, of course - if that’s your thing, you will miss it]
But the emerging world has a lot less room to conserve. They’re already doing a pretty good job right now.
And our infrastructure is different than theirs. They are already structured for a lower energy consumption pattern. What happens to all the sunk costs of our infrastructure that is based on a “luxury transportation fuel consumption pattern” that will need to be “conserved” at some point? Who wins and who loses based when “conservation” starts taking place?
And, once we have removed all our “luxury”, once we have trimmed the fat, and the cheap oil production continues to drop, what do we do then?
Lots of winners, and lots of losers in what is coming. Someday.
Meanwhile, shale production has been a fascinating trade-off - a whole lot of unserviceable debt in exchange for (roughly) 7.5 mpd marginal barrels that keep current oil prices exceedingly low. Without shale, pre-pandemic, crude would be $200/bbl. Crude market gets upset with a 1 mbpd deficit. Imagine a 7 mbpd deficit!
But with shale added in, nobody makes any money in oil. Isn’t it interesting that this took place? Who benefits?

Takeaway: shale is the 7.5 mbpd deus ex machina that prevented “peak cheap oil” from happening during 2010-2020. Almost all production from shale is uneconomical. As long as investors don’t mind losing every dollar they invest, shale can keep on acting as the “peak cheap oil” prevention mechanism. Until shale runs out, of course. Or investor patience.
Shale feels to me like an act of national policy. Maybe it cost $500-600 billion dollars of lost capex. (Could it have saved us payments to Saudi and Russia for $200/bbl oil? I think so. Roughly speaking, it might have saved us $3 trillion) Regardless, shale bought us 10 years, with no peak oil panic. Was this enough time for renewables to be developed to cushion the blow? Certainly wind & solar are much cheaper now than they were in 2010. Perhaps the pandemic will buy us another 3-4 years. Will that be enough? Certainly, it will help.
It doesn’t make peak cheap oil predicament go away, but as long as the oil market doesn’t figure out this is an act of US national policy, prices will probably remain low.
I do think Russia and Saudi Arabia are starting to smell a rat, however.

Shale oil might be making a big difference to the energy equations, but what is it doing to groundwater?
I see from aerial photos and Google Earth that areas given over to shale oil production (and coal seam gas) make the land look as though it has smallpox. I see also that the land close around a shale oil rig is badly degraded.
If one added up all such areas, any idea what would the total be?

All 400 of them. What do you fine folks have to say about this?

The question is really how safe it will be to shut down nuclear reactors in the event of a “grid down” situation. U.S. nuclear plants have backup power (e.g., diesel generators) which provide enough power for the duration of a safe shutdown. My uncertainty is how hardened these generators are to EMP events (solar and EMP weapons).

Yep. That’s “an issue”, as they like to say.
We do have a little more buffer space than this, however. Supposedly there are backup diesel generators on site with enough diesel that can keep things cool for a week.
So there’s that.
And presumably this “issue” is true for every country - some 30 of them - that have nuclear reactors.